Instant Karma’s Gonna Get You

I stopped by Barnes & Nobles this morning and picked up a couple of books on writing style—the AP one, and Strunk and White. I figured it couldn’t hurt if I refreshed my memory on the best ways to put things to paper (or screen, as the case may be). Maybe gussy this place up a little bit. Comb its hair, and slip on a nice button-down shirt.

On the way back to my car, a very pregnant woman in the garage asked me if I thought her battery was dead. I told her to turn the key. When I heard the rapid click click click, and saw the lights flash in time on her dashboard, I said, “Yup, it’s dead.” That’s when I noticed her elderly mother in and young daughter in the car. None of them spoke English very well.

I showed her how to put her car and neutral and I rolled it out of the parking spot. I pulled up my car next to hers and got out my jumper cables.

I spent nearly 2 years driving a 1977 Jeep Grand Cherokee—a car which I nicknamed “Penance”. (That’s a story for another time.) It was definitely a tempermental old thing. If I got one thing out of my experience with Penance it was an appreciation for all the things that could go wrong with a car. I’m not too bad with the jumper cables now. And I’ve learned to always carry those along with a random assortment of tools, rags, and a first aid kit in my car.

So I went to hook up the jumper cables and I immediately saw another reason why I like my Honda CR-V much better than the Toyota RAV-4, which the woman was driving. My Honda has its battery right out in the open. Easy to get to. The Toyota’s battery is up in the corner, nearly under the windshield covered by the big piece of plastic that you have to remove 6 plastic screws from. It’s real pain. Especially since we were partially blocking traffic in the Burbank Media Center garage.

But I finally got that off and hooked up the cables, attaching the last black cable to her engine block like I was taught all those years ago when I took my first driver’s ed class. We waited 5 minutes and she tried the ignition. More clicking.

“Damn!” I thought, and my mind immediately went to the burned out alternator that I once had to replace in Penance. This might not be as simple as I thought.

A man wandered up. My car was blocking his and he wanted to leave.

“Not working?” he asked.

The woman turned the key again but the car just made clicking noises. The man walked over to her engine and moved the black clip from the engine block to the negative terminal on her battery. She turned the key again and the car immediately sprang to life.

Everyone was saved. The woman had a working car. The man was able to get out of his parking spot and I was covered in dirt from a car that had not been washed in a while. Perhaps I got a few extra points of karma for that one.

One final note on all of this…

The woman offered me $5 for helping her. Of course I refused with a “Just glad I could help.” But there was a little voice of annoyance in the back of my brain.

Take notes people:

When someone helps you, the proper thing to do is to offer to compensate them. And as the helper the proper thing to do is the politely decline. However this all falls apart if the helpee doesn’t offer proper compensation. That’s the game.

“But you wouldn’t have accepted any amount of money from her, right? So why be annoyed?”

Because there should still be a proper value to things. If I had said, “Sorry, I can’t help you.” Or if I didn’t have jumper cables, she’d eventually have to call a towing company to give her a jump. It would have probably cost $40 or $50. So in my book, a proper amount to offer someone who helped you with a jump would be like $20. I still would have refused it—even if it was $50. It’s simply acknowledging the value of the help that someone just gave you.

When I lost my cell phone, and eventually realized that I had dropped it in the cab I took to pick up my car from the repair shop, I gave the cabbie $40 for returning it to me. And I made him take it. I might have given him more if I had it on me. The phone cost me $100. It would have cost me at least that much to replace it. He did me a huge service by just meeting me at a certain place and time to return the phone. There was value in the help he gave me, and I showed a proper appreciation for it.

So there you go. Your little polite appreciation lesson of the day brought to you by Uncle Jon.